Worsening Food Insecurity Spurs CRE Companies To Take Action
Among the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating impacts are the rise of hunger and food insecurity. As the heightened need for food provisions is expected to continue, some commercial real estate companies work to share the bounty.
Beginning in April 2020, infections in meat processing plants led to a domestic meat shortage spurring a 16% increase in imported meat prices in May and another 8.1% jump in June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 1 in every 7 U.S. adults with children lacked enough food to cover a weeklong period, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, citing a survey conducted between Feb. 17 and March 1, 2020.
Second Harvest of Silicon Valley, a food bank that serves Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, reported having to ramp up operations to distribute food to 50% more families since the pandemic’s onset.
“Pre-pandemic we were serving about 250,000 individuals per month, and we're now at about 500,000. So, we really have doubled,” Second Harvest Director of Legal, Compliance, Health and Safety Stephanie Schaefer said.
Some in commercial real estate have responded to alleviate the need. The Golden State Warriors and JPMorgan Chase launched Home Court Assist, a program to deliver 12,000 hot meals from local restaurants to Bay Area residents experiencing food shortages over a six-month period. Most recently, residents at affordable housing communities in San Francisco received deliveries of 2,000 meals, according to a spokesperson for Chase.
Home Court Assist enlists Warriors’ employees using company vans to transport meals from participating restaurants to residents. To date, the program has worked with Kitava and Radio Africa & Kitchen in S.F. and Horn Barbecue and Cosecha in Oakland. A total of seven small businesses, which are also Chase Business Banking clients, are expected to participate.
“During this difficult time, we are honored to help provide hot meals to Bay Area community members while giving small and local restaurants much-needed business,” Warriors Vice President of Government and Community Relations Yoyo Chan said in an email. “Fighting food insecurity has been a priority for the Warriors during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we remain committed to these efforts during the pandemic and beyond.”
Information on how much funding is going toward the program has not been released. In addition to Home Court Assist, Chase recently donated $100K to the Alameda County Food Bank and provided new market tax credit financing to Meals on Wheels S.F. to develop an industrial kitchen and food distribution center.
Farther south on the Peninsula, efforts to support Second Harvest’s operations began last year at the pandemic’s start. HKS Architects had already been doing pro bono work for Second Harvest, helping the nonprofit with a rebranding effort and a master plan for facilities’ redesign, according to HKS Director of Commercial Interiors Jenny Hehemann.
“We had to pivot quickly in order to respond to that challenge and support Second Harvest,” Hehemann said.
Part of the challenge came from frequently changing and conflicting directives on safety protocols from health authorities and implementing the design changes while Second Harvest’s facilities remained up and running.
“We never closed down,” Schaefer said. “We were continuing to get food out the door and into the community. It was continue and then ramp up.”
While no significant construction activities were part of the redesign efforts, a wide range of safety and efficiency changes were implemented in Second Harvest’s San Carlos and San Jose facilities. Work included changing occupancy levels in certain areas while decommissioning others, adding plexiglass barries, safety instruction signage and directional circulation markers. HKS also helped with measures to improve air quality.
The work proved critical to Second Harvest’s continuing and expanding operations to meet the escalating need for food. A single employee testing positive for Covid-19 could have had dire consequences for the food pantry remaining functional. Schaefer attributes the safety measures implemented by HKS for preventing what could have been a devastating outcome during the height of the pandemic.
“We were just happy to have a partner in all this, and it was great that it was an already established partnership,” Schaefer said. “I’m not sure I would have known where to go to ask for extra help, so it was just fortuitous that they were already on board.”